Lettuce Talk: Inflation Explained

You’re right.  Things are super expensive.  Anyone who’s been to the supermarket recently knows that a weekly shop now requires access to a line of credit, if not a second mortgage.  Last week, my local grocer was selling a head of lettuce for eight dollars.  Eight dollars.  I’m not sure my own head is worth that much.  Come to think of it, I spent less on my first car.  Eight bucks is a lot for an iceberg, most of which will probably go limp and rot in the bottom drawer of the fridge.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Grapes are now being sold separately.  Banana skins are now referred to as ‘accessories’ and incur an additional charge.  I picked up a packet of batteries that came with the warning; ‘batteries not included’.  Things are tough all over.  You know it’s out of hand when your groceries are delivered by Armaguard. Worst of all, this seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere.  Things are trundling along when, all of a sudden, inflation swoops in and kicks over the chair you’re sitting on.  It’s just plain nasty.

So just what is inflation? For starters, it’s so much more than an awesome nightclub where, in the 1980s, mullets roamed freely amongst the acid wash jeans and rivers of Bundy and coke.  Inflation, generally speaking, is an increase in the price of goods and services as against purchasing power.  It’s a measure.  And it’s one that’s not really loomed large for quite some time. Which is why it’s so shocking to see it make so fulsome a return.  Like a child you thought moved out of home to begin life as an adult but who, later, turns up on your couch without explanation eating your cereal, inflation is back.

I was born in the nineteen seventies – an era that didn’t invent inflation but certainly came close to perfecting it.  It was a wild decade. Those who were there were profoundly affected by the long shadow that inflation cast over everyday life. It was so much more than the price of fuel.  Inflation told us that restraint was utterly futile.  As a result, the seventies gave us flared trousers, cheese fondue fountains and disco music.  Self control was, more or less, abandoned altogether.  There were terrible consequences.  Growing up in an era when inflation ran rampant is one of the reasons why my hair was so big in the eighties.  Probably.

I’d feel better if I knew that the vegetables were benefiting from these gargantuan prices.  But it’s not as though your local turnip has suddenly moved into a higher tax bracket and is now setting up a family trust. That said, I do know a bag of spinach that’s just moved into a six-bedroom house in Brighton, which is probably bad sign.  Worse may yet be to come.  Soon, things will be so expensive that when avocados get smashed, it’ll only be on Moet champagne.  

In the seventies, we didn’t just have inflation.  For reasons that can’t currently be located, it wasn’t enough that we had to suffer through terrible food, fashion and music, we had take something that was pretty ordinary to begin with and find a way to make it even more dreadful. Specifically ‘stagflation’; which combines inflation with stagnant economic conditions.  Yuck.  Even the term itself should be enough to put you off.  Stagflation sounds like something that happens to a prospective groom the night before his wedding whereby he ends up drunk and tied naked to a set of traffic lights.  The effects are similar.

So how did we get here? The economy is a complex beast and it’s wrong to over-simplify things but, in a word, Putin.  Granted, there are other factors – a pandemic that put pressure on supply chains whilst demand for goods has increased. But, still, Putin.  That shirtless, feckless freak who decided to ruin things for everyone by invading a peaceful country.  What a jerk.  

The weird thing about Putin is that some in the West used to fawn over him admiringly.  There were some commentators who, to put it mildly, were in love with Vladimir Putin.  For some odd reason, they regarded him as a defender of conservative values if, indeed, riding around on a horse half naked can, in fact, be considered a conservative value.  He’s always been a tyrant, and now that tyranny is responsible for unleashing inflationary forces through higher energy prices and suppressing supply of key commodities.  That’s a lot of mayhem and destruction for just one person.

It’s a reminder how fragile things are.  Who’d have thought that war would return to Europe in the twenty first century?  But here we are.  And whilst we’re all paying a price, it’s nothing compared to the price paid by those in Ukraine.  It’s a truly shocking thing.     

Having grown up with inflation, I now feel compelled to return to my childhood.  Yesterday I wore flares.  Today I am overwhelmed by an urge to see melted cheese run through a fountain.  Tomorrow I may even hum a disco song.  But even if inflation reminds me of the seventies, I know that – like the nineteen seventies – this will end and things will get better.  I hope it’s soon.